A few months back, Wellington bluesman Darren Watson made an honest and heartfelt social media confession about how mentally and physically exhausted he felt in the wake of his most recent New Zealand tour. 2018 has been a big year for Watson. A new album, Too Many Millionaires, recorded and duly self-released, followed by the obligatory promotional treadmill, capped off by a series of gigs hot-footing it around the country. To paraphrase Watson, there wasn’t much left in the tank. Which is perfectly understandable. It’s the musician’s equivalent of a sportsman fronting a post-match interview with the requisite “I left everything out there on the pitch” …
As is so often the
way for blues artists of a certain vintage, Watson just keeps getting better
with age. Even if Watson himself is unlikely to buy into that type of lazy
cliche or stereotype. After all, he’s been breaking through barriers for the
30-plus years he’s been doing this stuff. As a passionate student of the genre,
living at the bottom of the world, plying his trade thousands of miles beyond
the heart of the Mississippi delta, forging a career playing a brand of music
that many would claim to be the sole preserve of black America.
Which of course
it isn’t. Watson proves that. As have others. But it can sometimes feel that
way. Particularly for anyone craving any amount of authenticity beyond the
barely palatable blues-rock crossover fare which frequented mainstream radio in
the Seventies and Eighties.
In terms of the
album itself, critics far more knowledgeable than myself - especially when it
comes to blues music - have been swift to label Too Many Millionaires as
Watson’s best work yet. And from all accounts it rates as his most commercially
successful album to date.
It’s certainly one
of the more stripped back and less complicated albums he’s ever released.
Something that not only serves to highlight the quality of the lyrics on offer,
it also brings the work of Watson’s band into sharp focus. In particular, the
tight rhythm section, and Terry Casey’s artistry on the harmonica.
As with past work,
Watson is not shy about mining New Zealand’s rich - yet mostly unheralded -
blues heritage, breathing fresh life back into a Bill Lake number on the title
track, and paying tribute to local legend Rick Bryant on ‘That Guy Could Sing!’
On ‘National Guy’,
Watson unrepentantly explores similar themes to one that got him into some hot
water with the electoral commission a few years back …
“If you wanna
share some of mine, well, get to the back of the line” …
‘Hallelujah (Rich Man’s War)’, and ‘Un-Love Me’, appeal as the best of the rest,
and but you’ll not find a dud track anywhere on Too Many Millionaires.
The only reservation for me, is that after the closing strut of ‘Past Tense’, I’m still
left wanting more, and at just eight tracks, running its full course at a few
ticks over 32 minutes, the album is perhaps a little too short.